..but I didn’t get first

Kevin, who has yet to reach 5 feet, has wide eyes framed by thick black glasses. He sits in the front of the class with a bright personality, but lacks discipline when it comes to his studies. For the past month, the students of Class 111 had been diligently preparing for this week’s sports competition. An elaborate field day, which lasts 3 days, will include a ticker-tape parade, track races, and other various competitions. As instructed by their homeroom teacher, Class 111’s track participants had been practicing three times a day, running in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

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At a young age, I started running track in elementary school and continued on until high school. Always an avid runner, I continue to run leisurely in Laoying, saying hello to local farm workers, while running into my students’ family members along the way. Given my background, I was coaching and rallying my students to run their best race yet. I ran alongside them barking instructions to look forward and pump their arms. I ran ahead to tell them when to give it their all for the final 100m kick. I ran past them to catch them as they crossed the finished line, win or lose.

During the sports competition, amidst shots of glucose, Class 111 had been sweeping races, placing in the Boys and Girls 100m sprint, 200m, 400m, and the 800m. Today was the day for the tough 1000m race. Kevin’s race.

Kevin, adorned in a number 1 bib, lined up at the start line. He flashed me a smile and returned my thumbs up. He told me earlier that he had been preparing for this race; he’s going to win.

“On your mark. Get set. Go.”

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Kevin kept up with the top of the pack until the 3rd lap, when he started lagging behind. I was running next to him telling him not to give up. I could tell negative demons were starting to creep up to him as he saw the top 3 runners distance themselves from him. By the 4th lap Kevin started to walk while clutching his side and panting heavily.

“Kevin, look at me. You are not a quitter. You told me you prepared for this. Now finish what you started. I know you can. One step at a time, lets finish this race.”

He gave me a slight nod and began to run again. During his 5th and final lap, I accompanied him the entire time. The last 100m, Kevin would face his last challenge. The runner behind him picked up his pace and was licking at Kevin’s heels.

“Kevin, don’t you dare let him pass. You earned this.”

With a scream, Kevin exhausted himself and sprinted to ensure his 4th place finish. He cried for the next hour. Sobbing into his friends consoling arms, “…but I didn’t get first.”

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I spent the rest of the day thinking about the purpose of these races.

Finding a teachable moment, I stood in front of Class 111, and with the undivided attention of 59 young faces and I told them what I say in them today.

“This track race is no different than the race you face for your education. Not everybody can win, but every student can prepare for this race. Each of you will face a moment in your studies when you want to give up. Each of you will face a moment where there’s someone behind you trying to take away your goals. But remember, that each of you have a teacher encouraging you.

You exemplified determination, heart, compassion, sportsmanship, and skill. You proved to me that when you want something, you would  do everything you could to obtain it. I know you have it in you. Now imagine that today’s race was English class and the finish line is the final. Face this challenge, like you faced your races. You will be amazed with what you can do. It is not about being first. It is about leaving nothing on the table. It is about you sprinting to the finish line for what you want.”

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